Martin Lipton's Premier League review: The morning after, Blackpool and Birmingham face up to losing their best players

TS Eliot got it wrong.

April isn't the cruellest month.

That, unquestionably, is May.

May, when all the hopes and fears of the previous nine months comes down to 90 minutes, to one match that means absolutely everything.

May, when one mistake, one miss, one slip, can cost millions.

And as Wolves, Wigan and Blackburn sipped their survival champagne last night, the bitterness filling Birmingham and Blackpool throats was made even sharper by the knowledge of how close they both were to staying in the Premier League.

When Gary Taylor-Fletcher put Ian Holloway's side in front 12 minutes into the second half at Old Trafford, they were barely half an hour from pulling off perhaps the greatest escape act of all time.

Yet that was as nothing compared to the late heartbreak which hammered Birmingham, just three minutes from salvation when, up in the Black Country, Stephen Hunt curled one past Paul Robinson to pull Wolves out of the dreaded drop zone for the third time in a dramatic, remarkable afternoon.

To think that maybe £30million rested on that Hunt goal, a sum of money which suddenly makes Birmingham look vulnerable - and perhaps means more than a few Blues fans might be wishing David Sullivan and David Gold were still in charge at St Andrew's rather than overseeing the mess at Upton Park.

Just 12 weeks after giving those self-same Birmingham fans their proudest moment, the glory of that Carling Cup Final win over Arsenal will have been lost on Alex McLeish.

Thursday nights on Channel Five will look like an onerous and unwanted extra burden to carry when Blues have a 46-game Championship programme - it will feel even more of a Pyrrhic victory for Blackpool after Seasiders appeared to have won the Fair Play League and face a qualifier at the end of June - to cope with as well.

Not since Norwich in 1985 - the year, of course, of the Heysel disaster which saw English clubs banned from Europe for five years - has a club won a trophy and been relegated in the same season.

Then again, until Hunt changed the mood of Molineux with one swing of his left foot, Wolves were poised to go down despite beating all the top three.

That fact, in itself, tells you why McCarthy's men deserved to stay up - even if they did not at all for their display against Blackburn, which was tantamount to an act of criminal neglect.

Shambolic defending, abject discipline, shoddy work all round, left the fans jeering their men off the pitch at half-time, making the post-game pitch invasion and huge cheers look somewhat embarrassing.

Not that anybody cared about their inconsistency.

The only thing that mattered - as chairman Steve Morgan admitted he had aged "20 years" in the space of 90 minutes - was the ultimate fate of their side, the fact that they will be back for more of the Premier League same in August.

Sadly, though, Blackpool, a side who had delighted us all season, will not be.

Fittingly, perhaps, they went out in the manner they have played throughout the campaign - giving it a real go, refusing to try to grind it out, remaining true to Holloway's principles.

In the end though, that was not enough.

Sir Alex Ferguson played fair to the rest of the league, starting four of the men who will certainly begin against Barcelona next Saturday - Edwin van der Sar, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Park Ji-Sung - with Darren Fletcher getting vital match practice and Nani and Dimitar Berbatov also playing.

Not a weak side. Even if not the first-choice 11, certainly one strong enough for there to be no complaints and the fact that they did win - dropping just two points out of 57 at home over the whole season - will ensure there are no comebacks.

There may not be for Blackpool either. This has been a thrilling adventure but Holloway expects to lose Charlie Adam and may well see others attracted away by top-flight raiders.

The same is likely to be said for Birmingham. It is hard to see Ben Foster, Scott Dann or Roger Johnson hanging around, nor Craig Gardner, who must have thought he had kept his side up when he netted the equaliser at White Hart Lane.

But for all the tears of despair shed around St Andrew's and Bloomfield Road, there would have been tears of genuine joy in Wigan.

Dave Whelan had promised he would keep Roberto Martinez on as manager whatever happened but staying up when they have been in the drop zone for all but a fortnight or so since November was a truly outstanding act of escapology.

For Wigan, May suddenly doesn't feel that cruel.

But Martinez only needs to look at McLeish and Holloway to see otherwise.

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williamhill.com

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